Omar Souleyman: Wenu Wenu
Similar Artists: None that I know of
Genre: Dabke, Syrian Wedding Music, Line Dancing
Label: Ribbon Music
I’ve been getting some pretty strange looks from people who overhear Omar Souleyman’s Wenu Wenu blasting from my headphones. This is probably because I’m white, and with my black leather jacket and torn jeans I probably resemble someone who would listen to punk or hard-rock rather than anything as foreign as Syrian wedding music. The thing is, despite the initial ethnic hurdle (you’ll have to look up a translation if you’re interested in what these songs are about), Souleyman’s high octane version of Dabke — a traditional style of music intended for the purpose of line dancing — translates quite efficiently to the now popularized brand of melodic techno/house.
So yes, this is party music in the truest sense of the word. While Souleyman himself is a dynamic force on the album — with his soaring and spiritual voice — the main appeal (at least to us Americans) comes from longtime partner Rizan Sa’id’s virtuosic keyboard playing. His adventurous synthesizer rhythms are a non-stop presence through the 40 minute album, and since they are often backed by bouncy 4/4 beats and hypnotic bass loops, if you let it, this is music that can truly make you move.
Omar Souleyman has apparently recorded upwards of 500 albums — of which he only made one copy of, to give to the bride and groom — but only recently has he been working within an actual studio in an attempt to capture the essence of his highly talked about live performances. Wenu Wenu is being seen as his first “proper” studio full length, as it was put out on Ribbon Music instead of Sublime Frequencies, who put out versions of his more low-fidelity recordings. Production duties have been handled by Keiran Hebden(AKA Four Tet), and although his influence on the music itself is only modest, he treats the sounds with a clarity and buoyancy relatable to his own work. This is a good thing, because Souleyman and Sa’id don’t need to change their formula; not now, not ever.
Wenu Wenu is about channeling the best of this duo’s output (many of these tracks are rerecorded versions of previously released career highlights) and making it work in a home listening setting. While some people may prefer the more chaotic and unintentionally noisy characteristics of Souleyman’s previous work, this is an album that took a whole lot of time to get here (around 20 years), and every non-Syrian should brave any slight uncomfortableness they may have and listen to it at least once.
1.) Wenu Wenu*
2.) Ya Yumma
5.) Warni Warni*
6.) Mawal Jamar
Album Highlight – *